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Iona, an island of white sands, pink granite and thundering seas, off the west coast of Scotland. Colum Cille (also known as Columba) landed here in the 6th century. An Irishman, he illuminated Britain with his books and the Gospel of Christ.

Destruction and Redemption

In Ireland, Brigid was inspired by Patrick. Leaving her father who had tried to sell her as a slave, she built a community, taught children, nursed the sick and welcomed travellers with meals of grilled salmon, cheese and beer. The music of harps filled the air.

Around the time that Brigid died, in AD 521, Colum Cille was born. Inspired by the communities established by Patrick and Brigid and by his love of books—he argued the first copyright case, Colum Cille began his real work after he made a horrific mistake.

Legend relates that a kinsman who had taken sanctuary in a church was murdered, and Colum Cille urged revenge. Walking the battlefield afterwards, he was grief-stricken by what he had instigated, and sailed east into exile. He was 42.

Cloisters at Iona

13th century cloisters at Iona.

On Iona, Colum Cille and twelve companions built an oratory, sanctuary and scriptorium. This was a time when books and libraries all over the Roman Empire had been burned to the ground. Colum Cille and the men of his monastery copied the works that had been saved from destruction. They created vellum parchment from prepared calf and sheep skin, made their own inks and pens and copied the books the only way they could be – by hand, letter by letter.

The Iona community believed that the world was a translucent source of mystery, revelation and redemption. They welcomed students from all over Britain and Ireland. Colum Cille had become a man of peace, a scholar and a farmer. He was known to tend ill birds, to be loved by his horse and to contemplate in remote parts of the island. History also records that he once strode knee-deep into the water in pursuit of marauders.

Aidan joined the community of Iona shortly before Colum Cille died on June 9th 597. A saint who could see a person’s inner face, Aidan carried the spirit of Iona and the teachings of Christ to Lindisfarne and Northumbria.

English bulldog puppy

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass